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The Rise of the CDO: The Profile, Responsibilities, and Challenges of the Chief Digital Officer

The Rise of the CDO: The Profile, Responsibilities, and Challenges of the Chief Digital Officer

by: Aris Pilitsopoulos
As technology continues to change the way we do business in an exponential rate, the newly appointed Chief Digital Officers (CDO) in today’s world face a lot of challenges.
Today’s consumer demands instant answers and access to information across an ever-expanding range of channels. According to Pew Research, over 5 billion people have mobile devices today – over half of which are smartphones. There are between 2.2 and 2.6 million apps available on mobile devices, depending on whether you’re using Apple iOS or Android.
Navigating this massive ecosystem and finding new opportunities, increasing revenue, and servicing customers is no easy task. CDOs need to be creative in leveraging existing tools to reach people where they’re at in authentic ways. They also need to be cheerleaders for digital innovation and cutting-edge organization. Here’s how they’re doing at it.

CDO Job Responsibilities

The day-to-day duties of a Chief Digital Officer vary a lot. CDOs have an enterprise point of view on rapidly emerging and changing technologies. As consumers shift to new ways of doing things, companies need to be at the forefront. Each company has different needs and capabilities, so a CDO is a jack of all trades and can see trends coming.
It may sound like a lot, but it all fits within these general responsibilities:

1.Map and Link Digital Capabilities to Strategic Priorities 

Individual business units throughout the organization have different digital capabilities. CDOs map them out to provide an overview of a company. They must then be linked to strategic priorities to ensure a seamless experience across all channels.

2.Push Digital Innovation in the C-Suite

The CDO is responsible for pushing the digital agenda in the executive boardroom. Other departments, including IT and marketing, have different agendas, and the CDO’s role is to carry digital innovation on his or her shoulders.

3.Develop and Administer Digital Project Portfolio

Project portfolio management (PPM) tools like Saviom, Celoxis, and Hive oversee tasks related to project tasks, budget, risks, and resource allocation. CDOs are responsible for creating and maintaining this bible for the health of the company’s digital efforts.

4.Measure ROI and Increase Digital Efficiency

Using the digital project portfolio, CDOs seek ways to continually improve ROI. New processes and procedures are developed to create faster ways of serving business needs, while reducing operating expenses.

5.Attract and Retain Top Talent

Because CDOs are part of the C-Suite, they’re responsible for executive-managing a team of top-tier professionals. Creating a culture of inclusive meritocracy and mutual respect is key to keeping top talent working efficiently.

6.Take the Lead in Delivery

The CDO is the internal and external public face of all things digital. This means it’s necessary to be an expert and field any possible questions relating to the company’s efforts regarding the current digital landscape. If you’re a day late, the company will end up a dollar short.


Challenges of the Modern CDO

Digital transformation is at the heart of a CDO’s job. Everyone in the C-suite should be fully informed and have a great relationship with digital transformation. It’s not just IT and marketing – everyone in the company should be digital-first, as we progress through the fourth industrial revolution. Here are the biggest challenges CDOs face entering the 2020s.

Working for the Common Good

CDOs are thought to be mostly tied to marketing and sales, but this is a narrow view of what they truly do. CDOs work with multiple departments to ensure the business is working in one unified direction. Whether B2C or B2B, anytime a vendor, customer, or client interacts with a business, it needs to be consistent. The success of this position relies on buy-in and participation across the board from all business units. The direct impact may not be noticeable, but the indirect effects have a generous ROI.

Relieving Interdepartmental Tension

Even though everyone works for the same company, it’s inevitable that individual business units begin to blame each other for issues. Instead of taking internal responsibility, it’s easier to blame someone else down the line. Most of these problems stem from misunderstandings of how the business operates. Because they’re involved in every department, CDOs act as liaisons to relieve tension and resolve communication issues. Project management provides a process to ensure this is done in a fair manner that involves input from all affected parties. 

Managing Existing vs Necessary Expertise

We all know social media, automation, IoT, and other technologies are important. Performing well on any of these channels is a whole other issue. CDOs must manage existing expertise and determine how to convert it to the expertise necessary. This involves a lot of training, which means designing and scheduling courses all while a project is in the approval and development stages. It also means employees with specific skills need to be identified to take the lead.


CDOs play a vital role in keeping today’s businesses current with modern technology. As consumers, we have more choices than ever before to search for information, utility, entertainment and unique experiences in the way we buy products and services. Organizations who efficiently provide these will win in tomorrow’s marketplace. It all rests on the shoulders of your Chief Digital Officer.
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